Stories from before times: Dinty Moore’s

There is a 15-stool bar in the small town of Nebraska City called Dinty Moore’s. From my studio window I could almost see the sign that hung on a post over the door.

Dinty Moore’s has quite a history: officially it has been in operation since 1906 but it’s very possible the place has been serving alcohol since the 1860s. During prohibition things moved into the basement. Now: it is the hottest hangout in town. We residents had been told to go there but somehow we didn’t get around to it until our last night. When the five of us showed up the man at the bar said with a grin, “Oh you must be the artists. What took you so long?” He asked us each about our medium and where we were from and how we liked Nebraska City. (We liked it.)

There had been a funeral in town that day and after the wake people started filling in the bar. By 9pm Dinty Moore’s was standing room only. One of the locals taught us how to play the golf game in which you roll a golf ball down the top of the bar (which is slightly uneven) and if it lands in one of the quarter-sized holes of the floor mat you get a free drink. Before you send the ball down the bar you yell BEERS UP! so everyone will get out of the way. I never won but some drunk stranger bought the bar a round so I got my free drink anyway.

It got loud: dozens of conversations layered over music. Drinks and shots and tokens accumulated in front of me–more rounds on the house. The aisle behind the stools filled with people. An older man fell on the floor and grasped at me to help himself back up. The room was almost entirely over fifty except for two young women one of whom was celebrating a birthday–more free drinks for that. An old man wrapped his arm around the poet from SF and she said if we were in San Francisco she would have punched him in the face. But here it’s okay. (Is it okay?) Here it’s actually kind of endearing.

We stayed until the place thinned out. The painter got friendly with one of the locals at the end of the bar and they took over the music playlist. Together they sang along to eighties hits. “Singing is good for the soul,” she told me on the walk home.

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